I was looking for a tool to replace all the paper clutter on my desk.
I’ve been looking high and low, and as of December 2018, to my knowledge these are the options if you want to hand-write your notes to an electronic device:
- a iPad Pro or a Surface tablet, with an Apple Pen or the Surface Pen. They are Not Cheap (around ~1000€). I’ve only tried the Surface, and the input lag is noticeable.
- a Samsung Android tablet with the S Pen, which, again, is Not Cheap (~700€).
- another cheaper Android tablet with a regular capacitive pen, but the input lag is huge, and precision is poor.
- a eInk-based tablet such as the Remarkable, which is Not Cheap (~500-600€) but seems to have very low lag (at least in the ads) and also doubles as an eReader and is capable of partial erasing; it is a very interesting concept, but the price tag led me to search more.
- a Moleskine Smart Writing System, which uses actual pen and paper, except the paper is proprietary and while Somewhat Cheap (about 1€ for an A4) it is the only system that’ll require money for each page you use (wisely or less wisely).
- tons of app&camera -based systems, some of which include microwave-erasable notebooks, such as the Rocket Book. These are cheaper (20-50€) but I didn’t like the idea of having to take a picture of the notebook, feeling in the end I’d just use it as, you know, a regular notebook.
- tons of eWriter systems, which are Very Cheap (as low as 5€), with imperceptible input lag, but no “smart” features that allow exporting your sketches.
That’s where the Boogie Board Sync stood up. It is the only eWriter system with bluetooth capability and also has an affordable price tag (~60€). Due to the lack of reviews on the web, I’m writing my own.
Update 1: The Boogie Board Sync has been discontinued by the manufacturer, so I don’t recommend getting one.
Update 2: A couple more smart writing systems have surfaced, such as the Boogie Board Carbon Copy. I will talk again about those, along with other systems such as the Neo Smartpen, in another post.
The selling feature for me was the integration with Evernote. You can actually sketch something on the board, hit the save button, fire up the app on your mobile phone, let it sync, and have your sketch in Evernote moments after. They’ll all collect in a Evernote notebook of your choice for later reference. Unfortunately, Evernote is not able to recognize the hand-written text inside the sketches, but you can write some keywords (such as a timestamp and title) to make it easier to find it later.
The Boogie Board Sync app could definitely use some improvements. At first I tried to set it up on Windows to have it permanently available, but for some reason I couldn’t get the Evernote syncing to work on my laptop (tested on two Windows10 laptops). I tried to contact Boogie Board support but they never replied (boo!). This is really unprofessional on their part and brought me to the brink of returning the product, but in the end I figured out I could just install the app on my phone instead, which apparently works better. Also, I once had a problem where the app crashed, and upon restarting, it imported again every single sketch from the board, which had to be cleaned out manually; so even the app is not perfect.
The build quality for now seems ok. The board surface might look scratched from time to time, but it looks to be caused by the pen leaving some kind of small trail; if you clean up the screen with a cloth or a finger, you’ll have a perfectly smooth surface again.
The screen is still perfectly smooth after months of use.
On the other hand, it has shown to be vulnerable to hits. I’ve hit the screen probably by dropping my keychain on it, and now I have a couple of spots on the screen where it is much more sensible (for example, they light up if I softly push there with my finger).
A few hits to the screen led to some sensitive points.
The pen stroke is somewhat thicker similar to the one of a soft felt tip pen, so you’ll have to adapt to writing with larger letters. Also, the screen sensitivity seems to depend on the heat (such as heat from sunlight) and it will grow bigger if the device gets hotter. Overall the vector version of your sketches is good enough to read later, but it is also not failure-proof, as some strokes (sometimes whole letters) will be missing from the end result. If your work involves symbols and numbers rather than words (such as, maths) I guess this could be a bigger issue.
How a note looks on the screen (left), and exported as PDF (right). You can notice some letters are completely missing.
A note on the software: when you delete a sketch, it is actually still accessible by using a USB cable and mounting the board as a USB thumb drive. The sketches are actually stored as vector PDFs on the board. The internal memory is probably enough for ~40k sketches.
The board can also be used as a digital drawing pad, it can left-click the screen by tapping the pen on the board, and right-click by using the button on the pen. It does not have pressure-sensitivity. This was not a relevant use case to me, but it still could be useful to someone.
Overall I’m rather happy with my Boogie Board Sync. I’ve averaged one note per day since when I had it 3 months ago and now I couldn’t go back. It definitely could use some improvements, but the concept is very interesting and as such I hope some competitors make their move with some new models.